Showing posts with label meditation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meditation. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Is the Bliss of Meditation for Real? "No-Bliss-Oblige?"

I began my life of meditation from the orientation of snippets of Buddhism. I say "snippets" because whatever I thought I learned was most likely inaccurate or at least spiritually untested. 

But when in my search I also encountered the Yoga-Vedanta-Sankhya traditions, I was suspicious because the references to bliss or divine joy seemed to me to smack of duality. 

In fact, just the other day, after a talk I gave at a Sunday Service at a Unity church, someone politely cornered me to question my references to bliss and the joy of the soul. This couple challenged me, in a friendly sporting way, relying as they did on teachings from a more Buddhist perspective. They described the ultimate state of the soul as beyond states of joy or bliss.

I've heard it said that in some Buddhist teachings bliss is said to be but a stage on the journey to enlightenment but not the final state of consciousness.

The very language we use when we use the word "bliss" or "joy" naturally seems to suggest a dual state in which someone, an "I" is feeling some feeling called blissful. Hence, by the very definition of non-duality, the very self-awareness of such a feeling cannot be the final state of being. Or so the logic goes.

Paramhansa Yogananda described eight aspects of higher consciousness, one of which is joy and another, love. Swami Kriyananda would comment occasionally in describing love as, in some subtle way, almost a lower state than joy (or bliss) for the very same, or nearly same reason: love suggests a relationship: I-Thou. I don't think he meant this literally because even I can feel "loving" without the necessity of a person or a thing being the object towards which my love is directed or from which my feeling of love is stimulated. Feeling "loving" can arise from within.

Swami Kriyananda did quote Yogananda as saying joy is a safer aspect of the soul's nature to emulate or strive to express than love because humans all too easily "fall in love" with another person (or thing).

Then there is the testimony of saints that say that immediately prior to their enlightenment comes the "dark night of the soul" or the tempter (Satan, maya, etc.) during which the inner light (another of the eight aspects) vanishes and only darkness remains. 

There are saints, including Lahiri Mahasaya, who make references to high states of consciousness as places of dark-less light, light-less dark and so on. 

Finally, all great mystics admit, one way or another, that the final state of being is beyond name, form or description (even if they try by poetry or imagery to convey).

And on a more mundane but at least a relatively more accessible level of human experience, the testimony of deeply sincere meditators over decades of living and practice demonstrates that while they may be generally described as joyful persons, they do not laugh off pain and suffering, whether their own or that of others. 

When Swami Kriyananda first wrote the ceremony Festival of Light (used on Sundays at Ananda churches especially in America), he had a sentence that read: And whereas suffering and sorrow, in the past, were the coin of man’s redemption, for us now the payment has been exchanged for joy.

A few years later he edited the end of that sentence to read ...."has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy."

As with the word "love" connotes merely human love, so the term "joy" cannot be extricated from the our response to, say, winning the lottery. Thus the term "bliss" is often used to elevate the implied meaning of divine joy to something more than merely egoic or of the conscious mind.

Partly then we have an issue of language. And partly the question remains whether or not the dissolution of the separate ego-self results in any awareness that includes a "feeling" experience such as joy.

Well, let's face it: the testimony of the masters, the saviors, the avatars, gurus, and saintly souls tells us that what they have found or become is worth every bit of the effort taken to re-discover it. I think that qualifies to be called "bliss?" 

Paramhansa Yogananda said "Yes." The Adi Shankaracharya said "Yes." He described the non-dual state with the term Sat-chit-ananda. Loosely translated by Yogananda as "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy." It might be stretched to say it is a state of immortality, omniscience, and bliss. The term describes the nature of God, the state of samadhi, and the nature of the soul.

Yet it is also true and discoverable by any serious devotee and meditator, that there ARE states of consciousness, in prayer and meditation, wherein feeling of any kind is held in abeyance; feeling is latent like an undercurrent, just behind one's steadfast awareness. It cannot be said to be no-thing, nor can it be said to be any-thing. It simply IS. 

In his autobiography, Yogananda was challenged by a saint when asked: "You go often into the silence, but have you developed anubhava? Don't mistake the path for the goal. Yogananda commented that the saint was reminding him to love God more than meditation. Perfect stillness (awareness without a manifested feeling of any kind), then, is not, itself the goal. It is not a state of Oneness beyond one's personal consciousness.

Then there are other experiences wherein one is absorbed in a feeling state such as peace, calmness, joy, love or subsumed in the power of subtle sound or inner light, or transported in a flash of instantaneous perceptive images or insights (similar to what is described as the life review at death or near-death). 

Such experiences can enter one's consciousness as if about to dissolve one's separateness; or, one's little self expands into the experience such that the self no longer matters and barely exists. Time begins to slow to a standstill.

Put another way: Infinity embraces all! As Ananda-moyi-ma described God: “It (the Spirit) is, and It isn’t, and neither is It, nor is It not.”

A saint can manifest dryness or joy, asceticism and renunciation, or enthusiastic engagement, creativity, compassion and joy. It is and it isn't!

The ray of divine vibration which descended through Paramhansa Yogananda and the lineage which preceded him is, however, characterized by joy!  But that joy, like devotion, like the higher inner states of meditation, can nonetheless be subtle or hidden from outward view in a particular devotee. Look at the eyes, however: do they glow with joy? Infinity? Light? Calmness?  

It is not surprising that in our efforts to share the teachings of Yogananda we frequently reference or express joy as an overarching characteristic. Yet power, too, is an aspect of God. Yogananda could be very powerful at times. 

Great saints do differ in what qualities are made manifest in their lives and thus in the lives of disciples who are in tune with them. Yet as Swami Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, was a Gyanavatar, he didn't "convert" Yogananda from being a bhakti, a Prem-avatar (of love and joy).

Yogananda had a life such that he was at ease in a wide variety of situations and seeming "moods." He was, in a sense, very "human." Indeed, fully human. 

Unlike aspiring saints who may have to hold back or to express austerity as part of their journey to enlightenment, Yogananda was born free, a purna avatar. It's not that he flaunted proper behavior, ethics, and the do's and don'ts of life (like some aspiring saints have done to show their avowed non-attachment to sense indulgences or unethical acts). 

Rather, he was freely expressive. His behavior was natural and unpretentious. These qualities, too, can be seen in his disciples. Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda, was a friend to all; unpretentious and natural in his actions according to circumstances.

Finally, we must simply admit that terms like "bliss" or "joy" only really have meaning in their being manifested in observable human consciousness and actions. 

By contrast, in an uplifted state of consciousness, in a state of samadhi, applying the adjectives of "bliss" or "joy" simply no longer apply except perhaps afterwards in an effort to share some aspect of what the soul experienced. 

It is and it yet it isn't. We can say samadhi is blissful and yet we must also say samadhi isn't limited by anything, including bliss. It simply IS. When awareness and feeling merge in pure consciousness, you cannot extract the one from the other. But neither would you trade it for any dual state of consciousness.

The "beamers of bliss" are right and the "no-bliss-obligers" are right. My lifelong mantra and response to life's ups and downs remains intact: BOTH-AND.

Joy or no-joy, I remain unshakeably the same, your own Self,

Swami Hriman-non-Da! 


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Ode to Forrest, Forrest Gump!

The movie, "Forrest Gump," is based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom and was made into a movie in 1994 starring Tom Hanks. Quite apart from the scenes of a historic period in America (the 1960's, the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon), the movie's enduring charm stems from the inspiring, timeless, and yet timely messages bottled within the labyrinth of its plot.

"Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get." This is perhaps the most popular quote for which Forrest Gump is famous. It is a lesson he learned from his "momma." In this simple metaphor of a box of chocolates, we are reminded to take life as it comes, with non-attachment and even-minded cheerfulness. Paramhansa Yogananda (author of the now-famous classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi") put it this way: "What comes of itself, let it come. All circumstances are neutral, he went on to say, but appear positive or negative according to the attitude of the mind. I'm sure Forrest (if he were to think about it but probably wouldn't bother) would agree with Yogananda's statement that there are "no obstacles; only opportunities" in life.

In the movie, Forrest carries with him that box of chocolates. It's as if, with each new episode, he reaches into the box with his eyes closed to select another piece of chocolate. This box of chocolates is, metaphorically speaking, the source of Forrest's ability to take life as it comes to him. It is detachment worthy of a great yogi!

With this "yogic siddhi" of non-attachment (psycho-physiological power) comes to Forrest additional qualities such as acceptance: self-acceptance and acceptance of others and of life as it flows by him. He is a witness to history even as yogis are a witness to their thoughts and the flow of life's energy within themselves and all around. But he is also a willing participant in history, doing what life calls him to do in each moment. He's an unwitting football star when that is needed; an unselfconscious hero in battle; a friend in need and even when rejected.

This power of acceptance is vibrantly clear in his relationships: with his love, Jenny; with his war-friend, Bubba; and with Lt. Dan. In each case, he takes his friends as they are and himself at face value: as his own sincere and well-meaning Self.

With Jenny, he feels her childhood pain from abuse and wants only to protect her. He wants nothing from her, though everyone else seems to. His love is selfless and without condition.

With Bubba, neither race nor social status means a thing to Forrest. He risks his own life in the Vietnam War to rescue his friend Bubba. And when that fails, he immortalizes Bubba by buying a boat to do shrimp fishing (which was Bubba's hope and dream when he returned home). This lead to his establishing the financially successful Bubba-Gump Company and sharing the profits with Bubba's impoverished family!

With Lt. Dan whom he also saves from certain death in the same war, he receives nothing but anger, reproach, and verbal abuse. Yet, later, when Forrest is shrimp fishing, Lt. Dan suddenly appears on the scene. Forrest immediately accepts and embraces his friend who while "shrimping" together with the ever-content Forrest is at last healed of his grief, resentment, and anger at life's cruelty.

While I surely am not the first person to express these responses to the otherwise simple, if popular, movie, Forrest Gump, it struck me anew the other day to write these words.

I like to imagine (in jest) that Forrest single-handedly created behavioural psychology when he responds to being called "stupid" saying: "Stupid is as stupid does!" (One's consciousness is manifested by one's actions!)

Simplicity; purity of heart; willingness and practicality in action; acceptance; loyalty to friends and purpose; spontaneity (as when he suddenly is prompted from within to begin running: running back and forth across America with no thought of "tomorrow" or how he would survive, eat, or be sheltered).

"O Father, Lord of Heaven, you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes." (Matt 11:25) Forrest Gump's life revealed the secrets of happiness. It would not have fit the movie to have introduced a religious theme because, for the message the movie conveys, it is complete. Forrest could have easily been re-cast into a saint but then the movie would never have achieved any recognition or popularity.

Forrest Gump symbolizes everything our society is not: innocence. It's wonderful that moviegoers enjoyed an evening's entertainment, but I think Forrest Gump has much more to say to us. Each generation needs a movie like Forrest, Forrest Gump. Don't you think?

"Life is like a box of chocolates" whose sweetness is found in innocence and acceptance.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Is Ego Good or Bad?


We say someone has a “big ego” and we know that this is not a good thing. Yet, we probably also know that some of those who have accomplished great things in the world could be described as having “a big ego” or at least a “big aura,” and maybe more of the former than the latter.

Some years ago there was a lot of talk about building self-esteem in children. Indeed, much of the training and education of a child is directed towards learning skills and gaining self-confidence. Now that I am a grandparent I watch with some interest and a newfound nonattachment to how much effort adults expend eliciting a child’s likes or dislikes. It seems instinctual to help a child to develop their ego from its amorphous and helpless state at birth to that of a strong, balanced, intelligent, healthy adult.

Among the traits of the ego that are helpful and necessary is taking responsibility for one’s life, developing will power, not blaming others, learning to forgive, learning to accept what can’t be changed: just to name a few. Among the valuable traits that reflect both a strong ego and one that is not excessively self-involved are kindness, thinking of the needs and realities of others, unselfishness, generosity, and creative solution-seeking: in short, the Golden Rule!

Is that all there is, then, to this ego-thing? Pet dogs and kiss babies, so to speak? Be good and you’ll surely go to heaven? If you are reading this you already know that’s not where this conversation is going!

The Vedantic path and teachings of the ages and sages offer to us a vision of reality that avers that the ultimate creator and purpose of the creation is to pierce the veil of illusion of our separateness and reunite with the only reality that is permanent, beyond suffering, and permanently satisfying: God (or Bliss or whatever name you prefer).

So on the ego-thing, we have some who say the ultimate state of existence (usually called heaven) is that we keep our egos and we rest happily forever praising the Lord, strumming harps, engaging in angel-like good deeds, or enjoying the everlasting pleasures of heaven.

Others say, “No way!”  We “kill” the illusion of a separate self (ego) and disappear into the great Void.

Photo by Patricia DeAnguera
 And, they say further, that on the threshold of this dissolution we experience momentarily the bliss of release from suffering caused by egoic consciousness but then we vanish without a trace into the No-thing-ness out of which all things have come. Hmmmm: a kind of spiritual suicide wish? I’ll take rain check, thank you.

Another version of egoic dissolution says that the Void is actually not empty but full: full of bliss! Bliss, in other words, is not temporary or born of the duality of separateness. Instead, the very nature of God (the ultimate state or reality) is Sat-chit-anandam: ever-existing (immortal), ever-conscious (omniscient), ever-new bliss. At least in this version we have something to look forward to.

This is the Vedantic version espoused by Paramhansa Yogananda. While this is a one version of ego transcendence, Yogananda took the explanation one step further in an interesting twist. Yogananda added that inasmuch as Infinite consciousness must, by definition, contain all that is past, present or will be or can be in the future, then there must be contained in Infinity the living “memory” of all those lifetimes during which my soul was misidentified AS the doer, as the ego. Well, ok, you say, but so what?

The “but” here is intended to provide an explanation for another phenomenon of the spiritual path. The explanation starts with this precept: no one can achieve Self-realization without helping others. It’s not that your final liberation awaits their own but nonetheless, you must become, towards the end of your journey, the guru to other souls. Yogananda said, in fact, that the minimum number of souls is six.

(I have no idea why six. Six chakras? Who knows. I am fairly certain he was not the first to make this statement but I accept that the principle is intact even if "why the number six" eludes me.) 

The annals of spirituality include innumerable testimonies that to disciples the guru comes in vision or in actual living form even though the guru is no longer on the planet in human form, having “died” days, weeks, or centuries past. Some, like Krishna or Jesus, may well have even incarnated into new human forms since the time of that particular incarnation as Jesus or Krishna. Yet, they appear in the form held dear by their devotee.

Yogananda thus says that out of the Infinite (the Akasha), the devotee’s devotion calls forth the past form of the guru, notwithstanding that the guru is no longer in that form, or perhaps in any form whatsoever. 

There is, as a bypath, testimony that saints, while still living in their human body, can appear in vision or dreams to disciples and yet they have no awareness or recollection of this fact, having perhaps been even asleep at that particular moment! It is the soul, in other words, that is ever-awake and eternally present.

Lastly, Yogananda stated that even an avatar—one freed from all karma and who returns to human form as a savior—must don the trappings of ego in order to function distinctly in a human form. The difference between the avatar and most of us is the degree of identification with that form and that personality. 

In his famous poem, “Samadhi,” he writes “I, the Cosmic Sea, watch the little ego floating in Me.” Yogananda defined ego as the soul identified with the body (which includes the personality).

So we are still faced with the question: is the ego real or not? Is it “bad” or “good”? The answer? It depends!

Like Moses in the Old Testament of the Bible or Bhishma of the Indian epic the Mahabharata, the ego can awaken to the desire to be free of its own limitations and hypnosis of separateness but its very nature IS separateness. The ego can work to grow spiritually but there comes a point (after countless efforts to do so) where it must offer itself into the Infinite (or at the feet of the guru, the Lord, etc etc).

We are given the survival instinct for a reason greater than just the survival of the body. No such instinct could be at odds with the truth of our Self. If all reality has as its basis pure Consciousness than the “I can never die.” The question is “Who am I?” Am “I” the body and personality? 

As Bhishma, symbol of the ego in all, was heralded as a great hero and a man of dharma, so too our ego, in its essence, need not be identified with the material world, the body, likes and dislikes, and the senses. 

Without the power of individuation, this world could not exist. The so-called “Divine Ego” is the pure ego, free of identification with thoughts, emotions, and the world of matter and senses.

But while the ego has great power it can obviously greatly become steeped in delusion. For its re-awakening, another outside influence is needed. The power of God using the human channel of the guru can resurrect the soul’s memory of its true nature. The soul, in attunement with the guru, can then direct the ego in right action and right attitude until the ego at last offers itself in final surrender into the Infinite at which point the ego can be said to dissolve or to expand into Bliss.

At the moment of final surrender, the ego must accept the possibility of its extinguishment but this is its final test. It must face the abyss of nothingness and surrender to it before it can enter into "the kingdom of heavenly bliss." I call this moment the "dark night of the ego."

May you slay the Og(r)e of Ego that the Soul may reign on the Throne of God's Bliss, our true home!

Swami Hrimananda

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How to be Thought-less!

Paramhansa Yogananda, in his now-classic life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," describes yoga as "a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts, which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit." (Chapter 24).

From Chapter 41 of that modern scripture Yogananda gives this challenging poem from one "of the many great saints of South India...., Thayumanavar:

You can control a mad elephant;
You can shut the mouth of the bear and the tiger;
You can ride a lion;
You can play with the cobra;
By alchemy you can eke out your livelihood;
You can wander through the universe incognito;
You can make vassals of the gods;
You can be ever youthful;
You can walk on water and live in fire;
But control of the mind is better and more difficult.

Stilling the agitations of the "monkey mind" is the subject and goal of countless meditation techniques and millions of meditators alike!

Ramana Maharshi is one of the most notable 20th-century advocates of Advaita (non-dualism), particularly in what he termed "Self-inquiry:" the quest to know "Who am I?" The great teachings of East and West essentially urge us to "Know Thyself" and discover "Tat twam asi" (That Thou Art). Watching one's thoughts and/or breath are among the ubiquitous and universal techniques of focusing the mind in order to still the "natural turbulence of thoughts."

Techniques are given, and there are many, to help focus the mind in order to reach the point beyond our thoughts. Too many meditators mistake the path for the goal and continue with their mantras, devotions, prayers, or breathwork "until the cows come home." The cows, that is, of their returning thoughts.

Why is so little attention is given to the cessation of what one teacher calls the "self-structure." The small self (ego, subconscious, etc.) is a little dictator whose mission is to keep us focused on our body, its needs, and to protect, defend and affirm the personality (ego.) It does a good job from a Darwinian point of view but it doesn't give us anything beyond a fleeting and insecure fulfilment and a deeply entrenched habit of restlessness. Praise, one day, blame, the next.

For starters, almost nobody on this planet is the slightest bit interested in the cessation of mental activity called "me." After all, didn't Rene Descartes tell us that "I think, therefore, I AM?" For another, the cessation of mental activity is very, very hard (note poem quoted above). And for those very, very few who make a deep and sincere effort, what they get for their reward is that their ego-self gets to stare into the abyss of nothingness, facing the prospect of its dissolution! So no wonder even meditators take the equivalent of a "rain check!" 

[In a humorous aside, Swami Kriyananda, in his landmark book on raja yoga, "Awaken to Superconsciousness," gently chides the Buddhistic tendency to focus on negative aspects of enlightenment (a state of no-thing-ness (nir-vana)) as the reason the enlightened ones, Bodhisattvas, chose to defer their liberation and come back to help others!]

But what, then, is the reward of making the effort? To quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, "Even a little practice of this inward religion will save you from dire fears and colossal sufferings." I'd add to this that the benefits of meditation, speaking generally and clinically, derive from the very effort to focus the mind inwardly and away from the senses, body, and ego. In an analogous manner, sleep too is essential for mental and physical well-being.

Thus I don't feel to dwell on the reasons the effort, challenging as it seems, is more than repaid. Besides, too great a focus on "what I get from this practice" will tend to undermine "what I get from this practice!" All great teachers of meditation caution that non-attachment to results--even of our meditation--is essential to success in every endeavor, including meditation. Besides, the reasons to meditate are as varied as those who practice it. 

How, then, best to focus the mind and transcend the thoughts? On this, too, I have to concede that the prescription is individual. There are many meditation techniques, philosophies, and, as stated just above, reasons to meditate. A strict approach, such as Ramana Maharshi's practice of self-inquiry, is probably too austere for most modern (and restless) minds. It is termed, in the yogic tradition, the approach of gyana yoga. Krishna states that meditating upon the formless (no-thought, or Absolute) is difficult for the average human. 

A devotional approach satisfies the heart's natural yearning to be loved and to love. One can meditate upon the image, feeling or thought of one's chosen deity, guru, or even an abstract principle such as love itself! But our culture is far from one that is comfortable with devotion, being, as we are, so fixed upon reason and analysis.

An energetic approach has the advantage of not requiring a complex belief system and is epitomized in the universally popular and useful approach of mindfulness: using the breath as the meditation object (with or without a word formula or mantra). In this Age of Energy, let "pranayam be your 'religion'" to quote a chant popular with Swami Sri Yukteswar!

Deeper practices of energy-meditation may involve a focus on the flow of subtle energy (prana or chi) in the chakras or the deep spine. The most well known of these is termed, simply, Kriya Yoga and was popularized by Paramhansa Yogananda (see Chapter 26 of his autobiography mentioned above).

What's wrong with thinking, you ask? The thinking and intellectual function of the human mind is a mixed gift: it is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thinking is necessarily logical and dual: this is not that, and that is not this! The intellect is a natural extension of the ego for it focuses on naming, labelling, distinguishing, and using for its advantage or protection the objects of the senses (people or things or forces it can control).  It has been well said that the mind makes a great tool but a poor master. 

Thus it is, by tradition from higher ages of consciousness, the power of the intellect (which can reveal the secrets of nature) is supposed to be given to or used only by one who has become identified with the soul, or higher Self. In such a case, this power is used for the good of all and not for self-aggrandizement or exploitation. It is obvious that at this time in history, this is far, far from the case.

Since the mid 20th century, it has often been said that humanity stands on the brink of self-destruction owing to our mastery of the tools of thinking, reasoning, analyzing and manipulating nature's secrets but that we have yet to save our souls! We have focused too greatly on the outer world at the expense of the inner world of consciousness. To this day, scientific dogma still insists that consciousness is the mere byproduct of matter, the brain, the body and evolution of the species. Reflection, and only a little is needed, would reveal the opposite: "I AM, therefore, I think!"

Thus it was that the noted historian Arnold Toynbee stated that while the west has conquered the east with its guns, the east will conquer the heart of the west with yoga. 

And finally, let me share this simple, uh oh: thought! The Thought-less Yogi emerges from the effort to still thoughts randomly throughout the day NOT just in the practice of meditation but between activities; before a phone call or email; at a stoplight. You learn to bring the monkey-to-heel by living increasingly in the "witness box" of the higher mind. This can be achieved whether your temperament is devotional, perceptive, or active. 

The state beyond thought, the transcendently aware state, must be felt, or intuited, not conceptualized. It is the portal to higher states of superconsciousness. As in Yogananda's quote above, the still mind "glimpses" our true nature as Spirit, as the formless I AM of all humanity, all creation, and of the Godhead. 

So train your monkey to be still and FEEL the stillness wherein no thoughts intrude. You may find it helpful to bridge ego consciousness to higher consciousness through the medium of a visualization from which you then extract the FEELING of transcendence. Examples include the image of the bright blue, cloudless skies on a sunny day; the vastness of the ocean when perfectly calm; the majesty of a great mountain; the roar of wind or water overtaking you; vastness of space in all directions; or the silvery-beam of moonlight filling you with deep peace and transcendent love. 

Once the raft of techniques has brought you to the shore, discard the raft and enter into PURE FEELING; PURE AWARENESS with no name, no form, no object to behold.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda

Monday, June 17, 2019

How Can I Find that Perfect Job?

A person wrote to us with this question:

In Scientific Healing Affirmations, Paramhansa Yogananda says that we attract material success by obeying the conscious, subconscious and superconscious laws of material success. I would like to attract to myself a job which uses my God-given talents, my strengths, and helps me to relate to my higher self. Is it possible to attract a job to oneself by concentrating on the subconscious and superconscious laws alone? 

My response to this question was put this way:

Dear Friend,

When Paramhansa Yogananda uses the term "superconscious" he is not referring to a level of consciousness that is OTHER THAN divine! Think of the "superconscious" as being the soul: a reflection of God (the Christ or Krishna consciousness).

The significance of this is that this method does not automatically remove from our life the accumulated karma that we have created from the past. When you write ".....to attract a job to oneself by concentrating on......ALONE" you imply that this power of attraction is centred in the ego but that is NOT what Yogananda means when he uses the term "superconscious laws of material success." Or, perhaps you mean that these methods work without regard to one's personal karma. 

The principle and power of non-attachment apply in this case lest by will power you achieve your job but find yourself enmeshed in creating more karma for yourself. In fact, the laws of success as Yogananda outlines them very much includes non-attachment to the results. It's a fine line, do you see? Success combines the highest of will power, energy and creativity with non-attachment and surrender to the divine will. (Actually, it is not so much SURRENDER as ATTUNEMENT AND HARMONY with the divine will, but the difference is mostly in the words not in the reality of consciousness required.)

As a devotee and meditator, strive for freedom from karma by devotion, self-effort, attunement, and selfless service. Material success and creative engagement WILL COME when it is yours to come. On the other hand, if the success of this outward variety is your priority apply your will and attune your soul to the guru and if and when material success is yours, and especially for your soul's freedom, it will come as day follows night. 

Live in the present thought that such a job is yours already and is the gift of God. It awaits only time and place but in the eternal now it exists already.

Remember that if such a perfect job were yours today but is received without divine attunement, you will find it falling short of satisfaction like the string that Yashoda used to try to tie to baby Krishna to keep him from being naughty!

Pray: "Beloved Friend, God: I seek to serve you in a capacity that brings to me creative engagement with my divinely-given strengths and leads me to freedom in Thee. Bless my efforts with success that I might reflect Thy joy and serve other souls! Thy will be done!"

Blessings and joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Is Being "Nice" Enough? Story of the Angry Saint Durvasa and the Flawed Warrior, Karna!

The heroes of legend are often characters both great and sometimes greatly flawed: just like most of us. 

At Sunday Service recently as a guest speaker with Padma, my wife, at the Ananda Church in Palo Alto, CA, I shared a simplified version of the story of Karna, one of the great warriors and tragic figure of the world's longest epic, the Mahabharata (the source of India's greatest scripture, the Bhagavad Gita).


 Despite being a great warrior he was handicapped by the need for recognition and the concomitant commitment of unquestioned loyalty to anyone who awarded him honor and love. His blind loyalty caused him to follow one who was, himself, dishonorable and provoked in Karna ignoble acts. Karna did feel remorse for his misdeeds but he met his death in the great war of Kurukshetra owing to both his virtues and his flaws which were exercised nobly but without discernment. Nonetheless, despite what could easily be judged his failure, he was honored after his death by Krishna for his unstinting generosity, strength and prowess in war, and self-sacrifice. 

Members of various faiths, spiritually minded, are exhorted to be good and to manifest virtue and integrity in their lives. Seen from the point of view of their opposites, who can argue? How much better a place our planet Earth would be if everyone were, simply, "nice."

As a member of a worldwide faith community known as "Ananda" I could be described as a Self-realizationist! Prayer, meditation, fellowship, study, giving and serving are, like most all faith traditions, an important part of my life. It's a good thing to try to be "nice." But it's also important to be honest, especially self-honest: in fact, ruthlessly self-honest! Sometimes our flaws act as the sand in the oyster of our soul which, over time, produces the pearl of great price.

I've been struck, so to speak, numerous times, with the contrast between those with no faith but who are infused with great integrity and virtue being contrasted with fellow religionists who seem all-too-fatally-flawed and difficult to get along with.

I recounted in that Sunday Service talk in Palo Alto that in the game of golf there is a rule that no matter where the ball lands, one must, if at all possible, play the ball (hit the ball) where it is found. (One is not supposed to touch the ball.)

No matter how poorly a "hand" (of cards) that life (our karma) deals to us, we must play the game of life with what we are given. Being born in a family of criminals or in a crime-infested neighborhood exposes us from an early age to the temptation, perhaps even the practical necessity, to engage in criminal acts.

Or, being born with the proverbial silver spoon of entitlement and privilege, we are a paragon of virtue, gentleness, refinement and compassion.

The history of saints, East and West, is riven with characters who didn't always play the game of life according to the Marquess of Queensberry Rules.
The famously "angry" sage, Durvasa, whose short fuse was legendary was the one who gave to the teenage girl, Kunti, the mantras to invoke various gods with whom to mate and produce offspring. Her innocent curiosity to use one of the mantras invoked the sun god from whom she conceived and later gave birth to Karna out of wedlock. 

Her fear of shame caused her to send the infant down the river in a basket (as, curiously, happened to Moses) thus setting the stage for Karna's existential insecurity about his not being accepted by others (for what was wrongly assumed to be his low-caste birth).

A person difficult to get along with might, nonetheless therefore, be a saint in the making by struggling to overcome certain non-virtuous traits. Another person born to innate sweetness may, in fact, be spiritually coasting along on good karma. 

The "nice" person may be offended by the unruly one but this may be a test of just how even-minded and ego transcendent the "nice" person really is. Not that this justifies being hurtful or unkind, but, spiritually speaking, we should be careful about our assessment of ourselves or others.

Swami Kriyananda recounted a beautiful story from the life of St. Therese of Lisieux. She was a novice mistress. Some of the nuns came to her and said “Why do we have to have some of these nuns here who are just so unpleasant? They wash the clothes in such a way as to deliberately get suds in the eyes of others who were helping!” You think in a convent, people shouldn’t act like that. But people are people, and their peopleness will come out. [laughter] You know what she said? “If we didn’t have such people, we would do well to go out and get them, and bring them here.” 

Yogananda put it another way: we cannot win the love of God until we can win the love of at least one other person (including and perhaps especially those who do not "like" us). I am not inclined to take this literally but in principle, I think the message is clear. 

So if you happen to be one of those difficult people, at least consider, as honestly as you can, just how deeply sincere are your efforts at self-improvement and, more importantly, how deep is your love for God and truth. "God doesn't mind our faults but seeks only our love (and interested attention!)," Yogananda would say to others. Don't pride yourself on your testiness, as if to justify your faults, but don't give up, either. "God watches the heart" Yogananda would also say to comfort and challenge devotees. 

And if, instead, your mouth has the silver spoon in it, watch the degree to which you take personal offense at criticism, especially when it is deemed (by you) to be unwarranted or unfair, for of such are the tests of karma and of God. Be at least inwardly thankful for whatever hurts you might receive that your "niceness" be honed by wisdom. Don't let your goodness be merely a show or worse, hypocritical.

Jesus warns us not to consider ourselves "good" for the fact that we love those who love us. Love is indeed the overriding aura of sanctity but so also is wisdom. God's love can sometimes be well disguised, masked that we might unmask the true Doer behind all seeming.

Joy to you!

Swami Hrimananda!

Friday, April 12, 2019

What is the Deeper Meaning of Easter?

Why Celebrate Easter?

The feast of Easter is observed primarily with images of bunnies, chocolate goodies, beautiful flowers, colorful new clothes, and for millions, a once-a-year visit to a church service. Few contemplate seriously the meaning of Easter beyond its outward observance. So let us step back and take a few minutes to consider the meaning of Easter to our own lives.

For starters, let us acknowledge that Easter is inextricably linked to the tragedy of the crucifixion. This is the way of the world where light alternates with darkness. But it’s deeper than that because, for one thing, the crucifixion was not a tragedy except in a very human sense, and for another, the resurrection of Jesus Christ has far more significance to us personally than its simple (if dramatic) narrative would suggest.

Jesus’ resurrection represented a victory: a victory over physical death; a victory over those who condemned him to death; a victory over those who accused him of blasphemy for affirming his own divine nature; a victory over those who doubted or scorned his legitimacy as a spiritual teacher.

But that victory could not have been a reality were it not for his crucifixion. It is not necessary to believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection to distil meaning from it. By contrast, it is not as difficult to accept the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion! But let’s see them as symbols for realities in our own, personal lives.

The ever-present and timeless message of these dramatic events is that the “death” of selfishness and egoity is the price of the soul’s resurrection. Egoity and selfishness we are familiar with, but the existence and nature of the soul is elusive to our day-to-day conscious awareness. For most people, the soul is only experienced in peak moments of transcendent joy, unconditional love, or the intensity of sacred experiences. Few people seek ego transcendence as a means to achieve soul-realization because few have awakened to the truth that the soul is the source of finding lasting happiness.

This message is the eternal “religion” and it is the core message of the movement known as Self-realization. Meditation is the means to this end. Stilling the natural tumult of our senses and mind reveals the eternal, changeless, blissful light of our soul.

Jesus accepted the divine will in accepting the yoke of crucifixion. Prior to his capture by his self-styled enemies, he briefly prayed that this yoke might be lifted. The answer to his prayer could not be granted and he accepted it without resistance. This models for us our response to the yoke of our karma, the suffering that comes inevitably in living life in a human body. Suffering can be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual but we have no need to define suffering. Pleasure and happiness can also find expression in these ways and, however transient, should also be accepted calmly. Only spiritual “happiness” requires no opposite in order to exist because it is our very nature.

This has nothing to do with whether we should seek abatement of suffering or the righting of wrongs. It is our ego-instinct to deny or repulse (or, for pleasure or happiness, our instinct to grasp) that creates the pendulum of unceasing action and reaction which is called karma. By calm acceptance and by neutralizing the reactive process through daily meditation, we achieve the freedom from all suffering and the state of true joy. This neutralizing process is enhanced by devotion and selflessness. Whatever proper action is dictated by the experience of sorrow or happiness is a separate matter and is not precluded by the fact of our acceptance.

The meaning of Easter is also embodied in the acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as a true “son of God.” Not the ONLY son of God, but an avatar: a descent into human form of a perfected soul sent back to transmit to truth seekers the hope, promise and power of transcendence. Other souls, too, such as Buddha, Krishna, Moses, and Yogananda, to name but a few, have come and will return again and again to guide entire families of souls toward the Light.

Jesus’ narrative is a dramatic one for he came at a time in human history where only an extreme example could awaken sleeping souls to their own highest potential as “sons of God.” As stated in the first chapter of the gospel of John: “And as many as received Him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.”

The Easter celebration thus holds a two-fold message for all humankind: the way to lasting happiness lies in overcoming egoity in order to achieve Self-realization; and, that wayshowers such as Jesus the Christ show us the way to live in this world; they stand poised to transmit the power of soul consciousness to those who “receive them.” We cannot achieve the “pearl of great price” by our efforts alone. More is needed to break the cyclotron of ego magnetism with its sheaths of karma which bind us.

Easter reflects the universal promise of immortality which is our soul’s true nature. Let us then celebrate this message as it has been embodied in the dramatic events of Jesus’ last days on earth.

[For more inspiration on this subject drawn from the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and his disciple, Swami Kriyananda, I highly recommend the book, "Promise of Immortality." Written by Swami Kriyananda, it can be found at an East West Bookshop near you or at www.CrystalClarity.com. At Ananda near Seattle, we have a day-long retreat on Saturday, April 20, and a celebratory Easter Service on Sunday, April 21. www.AnandaWashington.org]  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Cure of Nervousness -- by Swami Yogananda

Another of the Lessons from Paramhansa Yogananda's "Yogoda Lessons": only minor edits:


“Yogoda” Course (1925): Lesson 6--Cure of Nervousness
BY SWAMI YOGANANDA
          Definition: Restless mind vibrating thru the nerves is termed nervousness.
NERVOUSNESS—ITS PSYCHOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS
(1) Impatience.
(2) Lack of discretion in action (Impulsive action from impatience).
(3) Being influenced by contagious temperament of others.
(4) Fear.
(5) Anger.
(6) Jealousy.
(7) High-strung imagination.
(8) Ceaseless brain-storm (too much jazz or rock, theatre-going, dancing).
(9) Purposeless life, exciting existence.
(10) Mind and reason enslaved by nerves.
(11) Exciting dreams.
PSYCHO-PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS
(1) Shaking of head or hand.
(2) Twitching lips.
(3) Restless fingers.
(4) Involuntary movement of body parts.
(5) Fits.
(6) Heart trouble.
(7) Stimulated vision (hallucinations).
(8) Hasty action (nerves act before mind knows).
(9) Garrulous or chatter box habits.
(10) Insomnia.
PHYSICAL METHOD OF NERVOUS CURE
(1) Do not use sour pickles or acids.
(2) Or spices.
(3) Or stimulants.
(4) Remedy indigestion.
(5) Avoid constipation by using Yogoda system [Energization Exercises].
(6) Lessen hasty action.
(7) Lessen over-work.
(8) Go to bed early.
(9) Don’t play with fingers as a matter of habit.
(10) Don’t wrinkle face.
(11) Don’t scratch with fingers.
(12) Avoid the use of onions.
(13) Regular sleep.
(14) Frequent bath.
(15) Rub hands and skin of entire body before bath.
(16) Moderation in natural impulses [sex, food, etc.].
(17) Don’t lie awake in bed—wake up and get up.
(18) Crushed juice of celery, orange juice or almond juice, and almond butter are very good.
(19) Contract body, inhale and hold absorbing emotion. Then relax, exhale, and think the nervousness has left you with your relaxation.
(20) Brisk fresh-air walks daily.
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND GENERAL MEANS OF CURE
(1) Avoid argumentation.
(2) Delay action a little after resolution.
(3) Avoid quarrelsome surroundings.
(4) Don’t remain in the same room with nervous people.
(5) Choke excitement in the bud.
(6) Avoid Jazz, rock and loud music for some time at least.
(7) Listen to violin music.
(8) Don’t frequent movies which contain exciting scenes or tragedies.
(9) Sleep alone; empty your body and mind of thought and sensations before you sleep.
(10) Fully ANALYZE what you fear, or what you are excited about. Refuse to accept sudden emotions and excitement. Find the cause of excitement and seek remedy, but do not allow anxiety to rule the mind. Refuse to be obsessed by one idea.
(11) Keep company with people superior to you in everything—of cool and sweet temperament.
(12) Don’t indulge in vulgar jokes.
(13) Practice calmness, do not talk too much.
(14) HOLD TO THE CALM AFTER-EFFECTS OF CONCENTRATION AND MEDITATION TECHNIQUE.
Organic nervousness is very rare (in which the organs of the body are affected). Most cases of nervousness are psychological, expressing through the body, and mere analysis from an M.D. or Psycho-Analyst, or through Self-introspection, affects an immediate cure.
Above all, remember, MODERATION in eating, bodily enjoyments, sex impulses, work, money-making, play and social functions, leads to happiness, health, mental efficiency. Remember money is for your happiness, and that you are not made for money regardless of your happiness.
Physical science and science of mind and life will bring unity of human beings through fellowship with Truth and Good—Sat-Sanga (Fellowship).


Monday, February 11, 2019

The Avatar in You and Me! Friends in God

O Bharata, whenever virtue declines and vice predominates, I incarnate on earth. Taking visible form, I come to destroy evil and re-establish virtue. (Bhagavad Gita, 4:7-8)



In this passage, Lord Krishna speaks to us about the ancient teaching from India of the "avatara": the descent of God into human form in response to the needs of humankind.

While Hinduism and Christianity view their respective avatars as "actual" incarnations of God, the more nuanced teaching as elucidated by Paramhansa Yogananda is that the "saviour" ("Avatar") is a soul like you and me with but one difference: the avatar has, in a prior life, achieved oneness with God and worked out all past karma. Thus, the avatar returns to human form solely for the sake of helping souls still in delusion.

[Why or how the term has come to mean one's "alter ego" as in "my avatar" in gaming or social network circles is beyond me. But that's neither the term's original meaning nor my own in this article.]

The avatar's prior dissolution of ego consciousness implies that the ego has merged wholly into soul consciousness and, from there, has become "one with God." Thus Jesus Christ could declare, "I and my Father are One!" The distinction, then, between saying "God has incarnated in human form" and "Another soul, like me, has achieved God-realization" is, in fact, not great so far as the avatar's state of consciousness is concerned. But it IS important so far as WE are concerned because this truth affirms or reminds us that WE can also achieve that state!

By contrast, if God simply "incarnates Himself" into human form, as a special divine creation, it tells us that we are inherently separate from God. No difference for God who is omnipresent, but a big obstacle for us who are not yet omnipresent! 

This is, in fact, the "good news" which God sends to humankind through those who "have seen Him."

But for the promise of immortality represented in this "good news," only those with "eyes to see and ears to hear" can see and hear this good news.

God does not interfere with the karma and desires of those souls whom He has created. Only those who are ready to remember their soul's immortality hear the news. Of course, "many turned away" as the New Testament said of the life of Jesus towards the end of his ministry for they could not fathom his radical call to sonship in God (especially when he spoke of "eating my flesh" and "drinking my blood!").

In Yogananda's life, too, Swami Kriyananda said that it was like a hotel at the headquarters at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles: "people checking in and out." They did not recognize the spiritual stature and promise of Yogananda who, evidently, did not live up to their expectations! 


Even during Yogananda's "barnstorming days" around America when thousands would line up to hear him speak, only a few remained after the novelty of this popular motivational speaker from India had been satisfied.

Much more could be said on the nature of the soul and the saviour, but I would like to go back to the quote from the Bhagavad Gita above. 

What does Krishna mean when he says he comes "to destroy evil?" Swami Kriyananda in his landmark book, Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, points out that Krishna does NOT say he will destroy EVILDOERS! He takes aim at EVIL itself. Destroying "evil" and "re-establishing virtue" is a reference to consciousness. 

This means, then, that the avatar's purpose is to uplift human consciousness. This takes place on two planes: that of the individual souls (presumably disciples from past lives) and that of humanity at large. In looking back over history, we can see that the avatar must address the realities and needs of those specific places and cultures into which he/she is born. Yet, over time, the avatar's influence expands worldwide as in the case of Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, and now we see also in respect to Yogananda, to name a few. The power of such a descent, a "purna avatar," lingers for centuries, even millennia! 

But the medium through which this power spreads and continues over time is the "avatara" that occurs in the hearts and minds of those who are awakened. 

As the avatar's consciousness is that of God consciousness and as the disciple seeks to attune to God consciousness, we, too, can see ourselves, in a sense, as part of the avatara. Thus our life's purpose includes helping to help uplift humanity, on a scale appropriate to our own lives. 

While we devotees naturally focus on the "virtue" element of the avatar's mission, I'd like to consider the evil-destroying element. 

Yogananda said that in a past life he was William the Conqueror. And after that lifetime he said he was a king in Spain (probably Ferdinand III). It is, admittedly, difficult to overlay what we know of the lives of these men with the concept of an avatar. But, whatever the case may be historically or otherwise, it suggests some aspects of the evil-destroying purpose of their incarnation. 

Stories of the life of Krishna are filled with episodes where he destroys this or that demon (incarnations of evil). We, too, have our demons. Attunement to the avatar means we, too, should do our best to destroy our bad habits or ignorance. 

In the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr we see two great souls battling the demons of injustice and social evils. I don't hold them out as avatars but as souls who took up the avatar's sword for themselves. Gandhi took kriya initiation from Yogananda and King considered himself a disciple of Gandhi. Gandhi had a special love for Lord Rama, and King, for Jesus Christ. Both Rama and Jesus are considered avatars.

While history celebrates their social justice accomplishments, they were candid about their own inner struggles as well. Thus they stand as excellent examples of the avatara "destroying evil." 

In yoga, we speak frequently about the importance of being centered in the spine (both physical and astral spine) The spine is a symbol of strength, self-discipline, and one-pointed upward focus. While spirituality as expressed in these times and as emphasized by Yogananda is focused on the positive, life-affirming results and process of spiritual growth, he also made it clear to his close disciples of the need for self-discipline and ego transcendence.

Swami Kriyananda would sometimes counsel us saying, "Be a little stern with yourself." He told the story of how one evening, sick of the little prancing prince of the ego, he cried out in meditation, commanding his ego, "GET OUT!" Later, walking outside in the dark he came upon Yogananda. Kneeling before him, Yogananda said quietly to Kriyananda, "Very good." 

But as a caveat: just be sure you direct your self-discipline towards yourself, not others! Your efforts are between you and your soul.

Practice "titiksha": disciplining your senses in regard to sensations such as heat or cold; or the likes and dislikes of flavours; or the opinions (perceived or actual) of others; of your own opinions. By practising on little things we prepare ourselves to hold in check the ego's preening on the stage of your life. 

Receptivity to the avatar should include both sides of the equation for spiritual growth: ego transcendence and the transforming power of unconditional love and joy. Our soul's journey is necessarily unique and individual. It's expression, therefore, must remain true to your Self. 

But one thing common to all of us, because we are united by God, is found in one of the greatest treasures of the journey: the gift of true friendship. Friends-in-God are those who act as soul-mirrors to one another. The company you keep, both inwardly and outwardly, determine to a great extent the direction of your attention: whether upward toward God, or, downward toward ego and the senses.

Let us remember that the purpose of the "descent" is to enable us to rise. "Rise O My Soul in Freedom."

Jai guru,

Swami Hrimananda






Friday, February 8, 2019

Meditation for the Thought-full

Where do we go when we sleep? When we die? When we daydream and the stream of thoughts vanishes into no-thought as we gaze outward?

Is it: "I think therefore I AM," or is it "I AM therefore I think?"

Our bodies, our impulses, and our world invite us to look outward through our eyes; to hear outer sounds through our ears; to feel objects around us using the sense of touch; to smell invisible fragrances in the air and to put objects of taste into our mouths.

But what if we turn inward, instead? If we remove our skin and see into our organs do we see ourselves? No, we see only these organs, arteries, veins, and blood. Most or many of these can be removed and even replaced, leaving the "I" of myself intact and untouched. We look at these body parts but don't see ourselves.

We can view our own bodies from the outside and make certain conclusions that may affect our sense of who we are and may affect how we act. We might conclude that we are old, young, beautiful or not so, strong, or weak. But then on any given day or hour, we are so preoccupied with other things and thoughts that our appearance is of no particular interest even to us. We may preen one day and want to hide from view the next.

In fact, our thoughts and emotions, and our attitude towards our own self-worth are constantly changing hour to hour, day to day, week to week and year to year. Over a period of years we might look back and see a gradual evolution of our attitudes and opinions but we can never, if ever we give this some thought, know when and how our current views will change.

Look into the mirror. Usually, we look away quickly, perhaps embarrassed or not wanting to face the fact that who we see reflected there is but a stranger to us. But, try it: face the face before you. 

At first, we might be preoccupied with observing our facial features but it won't take long to tire of this, for it reveals little of ourself. 

Ok, then, what about our life history? Does our biography tell us very much? Well, yes, some things for sure. Mostly we can only recollect key events which, even if considered significant (birth, school, prom, wedding, birth, deaths) rarely consume much of our time and interest in day-to-day life.

So, still, we ask, "Who am I?"

I suppose I have to concede that most human beings never ask this question and if they were asked, they'd shrug it off as a useless one. I can imagine one of them saying, "What difference would the answer make?" And that's a good question, too. Let's find out, eh? ("Eh": a concession to my Canadian friends just north of here.)

If staring at yourself in the mirror is a "non-starter," try staring out a window. What do you see? A panorama, or slice of human life passing by? A scene of nature? A parking lot? A lawn? Clouds and sky? A mountain, lake or ocean?

Can you gaze outward and after taking it in, commentary and all, simply look at what you see without mental self-talk?

And, since this is a blog about meditation, can you close your eyes while sitting erect but relaxed and have your thoughts vanish like fog beneath the mid-day sun? It will help if you lift your inner gaze just a little bit. (To do this, touch a finger lightly at the point between the eyebrows, or just slightly above that spot--just for a few seconds. Focus as if peering out at a point a few feet away as your eyes are closed).

With a little practice, you'll get the position just right and comfortable where there is no tension, just inward gazing. What you'll usually see is nothing! Or, at least no-thing. It is usually dark, with maybe splotches of light or even color. As you get calmer any jumpiness of the images should slow down. Gaze in this way with keen interest, and yet, with an air of contentment and relaxation. 

If this is new to you, you'll need to do this daily for a week or more. As a general rule, even with eyes open, if I look up, my stream of thoughts tend to pause, as if waiting for instruction or an answer to a question (even a question unasked). Hold on and exploit this natural reaction, even from time to time throughout the day. The monkey-mind is a curious being and is always interested in something new. The gaze, when lifted, is the nature-given "mudra" (position) of seeking an answer. The mind pauses, eager for a response; eager for some new idea.

We do this all the time during the day when, for example, we wonder where we left our car keys, or what time was that appointment. We might also knit our eyebrows and purse our lips in sudden consternation of something important we may have forgotten. At such times, the mind begins to search on "the hard disk" of memory and tells the monkey to "shut up for a sec."

Getting back to this "mudra" for meditation, you can also practice "looking up" with eyes open instead of closed. The drawback here are the distractions born of visual input. But for some people, or at least to learn where the "sweet spot" of meditation gazing can be found, open eyes can be helpful. You just have to experiment a bit. Once you find the spot and get comfortable with it, it should be practiced with eyes closed.

In this position, eyes upward for meditation, it is often taught that one should hold that position and add to it an awareness of the simple movements of our breath: whether in the lungs or as the breath flows up and down through the nostrils. The breath is a natural point of focus for beginning meditation. 

For my purposes in writing this article, we are now at the beginning point of the "thoughtless state." Thought-full, or, thought-less, it matters not. When I say "full," however, I am not referring to the usual avalanche of thoughts that pours through our mind in every minute of our waking hours, but the innate "fullness" one experiences in a state of pure mind-full-ness: a state where the normal stream of thoughts has vanished.

This state of self-awareness is the foundational state for higher consciousness. But those higher states are secondary for my subject here today.

Achieving this state of quietude is not the result of the intensity of will power or effort. It can only be done with calm, attentive, intentional relaxation of body and mind. Yet for all of its innate relaxation, it isn't usually helpful to lie down because what I am describing takes a special kind of concentration. Not the kind of concentration where we are facing a deadline and we are tensed with will and the grit of determination, "come hell or high water." 

It's the kind of concentration as most experience in watching a good movie (though not an edge-of-the seat thriller). Or, the kind you might experience while ice skating, skiing, or in the zone where body and mind are one-pointedly focused, both relaxed but keenly engaged at the same time. 

It has to be something you want to do; that you've been waiting all day to find the time and opportunity to do. It has to be something you enjoy; something that takes and gives you energy, joy and flow! 

Whatever it takes to get there, the consequent state of keen, pure self-awareness is a singular state of observation and witnessing. There's no self-talk; no judgement; no assessment or mental commentary. Though neutral, there is an underlying sense of empathy, satisfaction and contentment, like a warm bath or a weightless and invisible waterfall in and all around you. 

In this state, there is a heightened sense of awareness: not "of," but "with." It takes practice, for sure but after a time, try turning your inner gaze upon itself: as if you were looking into your own eyes (like in the bathroom mirror experiment). You can feel your "eyes," the eyes of your attention, looking back at you.

It's an odd feeling at first, isn't it? Just as staring at another person gets quickly uncomfortable, causing one or both to look away, you might experience something similar at first.

In fact, and as stated earlier, you can only sustain this state by relaxing, not by tense will power.

And now, you ask, "Well, so what?" "What's it all about?" Like Moses who could not enter the Promised Land, I cannot take you past this point. In this state of emptiness, what fills it (apart from the pernickety monkey-mind eager to retake the stage) is for you to discover.

I can't promise it will always be wonderful. You will undoubtedly encounter resistance and very likely a kind of fear. The ego and subconscious are fearful of being extinguished by the state of no-thought, because the ego is addicted to thoughts, sensations, emotions and drama from which it derives its self-identity, its role, and its existential being. "It's my job," the ego and subconscious protests. 

Paramhansa Yogananda put it bluntly: "The soul loves to meditate; the ego HATES to meditate."

But for the courageous of heart who can gently smile in the face of the abyss, and who can remain conscious in the face of darkness, the light and joy of the indwelling soul, which itself is but a spark of the Infinite Light, awaits.

More than this is that "added into you" are all the "things" needful for your life's journey, including a protective aura of calm acceptance and inner joy.

The more often your mind is baptized in this state of no-thought, washing away the stain and grime of self-involved, ego-affirming mental activities, memories, and inclinations, the purer you become. You grow in wisdom and intuitive insights; in confidence; in connectedness to all life; to the state of loving without condition. All "these things," too, are "added unto you."

Why? Because this is our essential BEING. It is the I AM before I think (to re-purpose Descartes). This is our homeland; our origins and our birthright which is always there behind our thoughts for us to reclaim. In this state, we have a portal, a kind of psychic "worm hole," to higher states of unitive consciousness. These states cannot be pre-defined or controlled by the ego mind or its intentions or will power.

"By steadfast meditation on Me" (Bhagavad Gita) we come quickly to this portal through which inspiration, insight, wisdom, joy, love, and "all these things added unto you" pour forth into our body, mind, and our life. 

"Is that all there is?" No: infinity is Infinite, timeless, and endless. We can bathe in its gifts but as it pours its blessings into us, we take on its nature and thus we increasingly will be drawn and invited to give ourselves to it wholly. But this doesn't happen without our conscious will.  Though Infinity silently beckons us to surrender or enter into it for no reason or gift beyond itself whose nature is bliss, the ego cannot enter except willingly and except without facing the seeming reality of its own extinction. Paramhansa Yogananda and all the great saints down through the ages offer us assurance that we will not regret our surrender, but in the moment of our surrender we are alone and must face not the dark night of the soul, but the dark night of the ego. (Dark night of the soul is actually a misnomer. The soul's nature IS light!)

You have nothing to fear from entering the "thoughtless-zone." No one or nothing will come to sweep you away into the abyss. You need only "to be present to win." (Stay conscious, in other words!) Indeed, wouldn't it be wonderful if Divine Mother came to scoop us out of our delusion! No, She wants only our love; the only thing she doesn't possess and only we can give it: willingly, consciously. Union with the Infinite must be sought and won by earnest effort, attunement with divine consciousness, and the grace of God and guru.

Go then through your day, then, with the eyes of awareness; non-judgement; with the all-seeing-I. Fear not the journey of awakening. You can take lifetimes or move switfly to the goal. It's always up to you.

Swami Hrimananda.

NB: the state beyond thought can come "like a thief in the night" with or without apparent intention or cause. The description given above is simply an explanation with a recipe. But the state of pre-thought consciousness knows no boundaries. By devotion, self-giving, and in any number of triggering activities, mundane, spiritual or meditative, it can steal upon us. So long as we remain conscious and present, no harm can ever come to us.